As researchers, most of us may have planned our research project by breaking it into a set of activities to reach the final goal. This is often visualized in a Gantt chart, which is a waterfall project-management approach. The idea here is to primarily bifurcate the research project into tasks which is further disintegrated into sub-tasks. The tasks and sub-tasks are now aligned in a series and are performed in a subsequent manner. This approach mandates the need to maintain the set scope and requirements, which is laid out at the initiation of the project, also involving a certain level of risk and uncertainty. This hence, has led to the birth of ’Agile’ a flexible philosophy which finds it roots in the software industry. Agile is a mind-set, focussing on the flow and value creation during product development.
For instance, a PhD scholar who follows the waterfall approach in his or her scientific research, which focusses on performing a set of experiments, will be able to interpret the real scientific outputs only at the end point of the final stage. In contrary, if the Agile approach is incorporated, the experiments are now broken into several activities, along with interpretation and analysis at every level of task completion. Additionally, a constant supervisory intervention along with flexibility to changes can boost the rate of achieving the scientific goal, compared to the waterfall approach.
Our research group, Plastics and Elastomer Technology at the Tampere University in Finland has been inspired by the Agile approach. One of the widely used agile process, named SCRUM is actively used within our group. Though the SCRUM framework is widely used in product development by the software industry, it does have a significant impact on its application in academics. SCRUM is an agile framework in which researchers can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value. The name SCRUM originates from the rugby formation.
A general framework of SCRUM and its process is shown in Fig.1 and 2 respectively. Keeping the academic scenario in mind, the framework is slightly condensed and modified to ease the functioning of the SCRUM process.
The product owner is the project funding organization and the Scrum master is usually the project supervisor. The supervisor along with his or her research team prepares the sprint backlogs in their sprint planning meet. This meet is usually a stand-up with no laptop and papers. The sprint usually runs for a period of week or two. A weekly meeting would be adequate, keeping in mind, daily scrum meetings are unfeasible especially in academics. Perhaps, a less stringent form of daily stand-up would serve well, depending on the type of backlog.
At the end of Sprint, the incremental output is reviewed, and retrospectives are discussed which can prove beneficial for the next sprint. This strategy has proven quite dynamic and effective for manuscript writing and running simulation code. The novice sprints might take longer as the team would need to settle in on a velocity and learn the process.
Note Finale - AGILE for research will allow one to restructure their daily research activities with continuous support from the supervisor. Several studies have also shown, the research goals could be achieved rapidly with this new approach. It provides a win-win for both the supervisor and the researcher.
ESR3 - Tampere University